East End restaurants almost always open on or before Memorial Day in order to capture the peak-season crowds. Italian eateries in this country often serve Italian-American dishes that are familiar to local diners. Caci (a contraction of co-owners Anthony and Daniele’s last name, Cacioppo) in Southold did neither and has become one of the North Fork’s most successful, outstanding restaurants. It came in under the radar in September 2014 and its short, sophisticated menu lists refined Italian-Italian dishes with an Umbrian slant rather than Italian-American standards that are virtually unknown to those originating back in the Old Country.
The reasons for Caci’s year-round popularity are no mystery. Its chef and partner Marco Pellegrini, a relatively recent arrival in the United States, hails from Umbria in central Italy. He is reproducing the dishes of that region and makes all his pastas, breads and gelato in house. If something isn’t in season he doesn’t use it. Meats are cooked on a wood grill and perfect seasoning is the rule rather than the exception.
All of this culinary magic is achieved in what looks like a private home along Main Road. Although it’s easy to pass this unassuming spot (previously EON) to do so would be a mistake. Its bare tables and floors, beamed ceiling and neat, clean lines are a neutral stage enabling emphasis to be on the food rather than the décor.
Warm, slightly salty rosemary focaccia and circular tomato rosettes preceded dinner. Among the recommended starters were wood grilled calamari skewers: thin- cut, tender and juicy from olive oil with a squeeze of lemon and a scattering of house-made seasoned bread crumbs ($18). Equally good was an almost transparent prosciutto di Parma aged for 24 months and boosted by imported Burrata cheese, artichokes and olives ($22).
Entrée notables were the super-rich Buffalo milk ricotta ravioli coated with a lush black summer truffle sauce ($32) and a robust arugula potato gnocchi laced with house-made sausage, pancetta and ripe tomatoes ($28). A juicy, tender chicken breast garnished with peach slices ($26) was very good while two plump, pillowy grilled double lamb chops with seasonal mushrooms ($39) were even better.
An unusually solid, hefty Italian cheesecake with fresh blueberry sauce and a circular house-made tiramisu dotted with hazelnut pralines ($12) lead the dessert parade. To wash it all down, an impressive, albeit pricey, list of 111 wine selections is also available.
There were a few very minor service flaws—no bread refill, no request for coffee or tea and one dish delivered to the wrong diner. But waiters and busboys were well informed and vigilant. Water glasses were kept filled, silverware was promptly replaced and questions were quickly and intelligently answered.